In 2016 Hibiki 21 won the World’s Best Blended Whisky award for a record 4th time. Everyone was talking about Japanese whisky. Had Scotland got left behind? Was it really that special or was it marketing hype? So I found myself tempted into buying a bottle in the airport in Tokyo.
The flight back to the UK tasting it with all my different chocolates was deliciously and spectacularly mind opening. It was the beginning of my journey of discovery, not just of fine whiskies and bourbons, but of craft spirits in general. The same is true in drinks as chocolate – find the best ingredients, use a process that respects them not cost, and you will end up with something out of the ordinary. Flavours that stop you in your tracks and make you wonder how you had been hoodwinked by the big commercial brands for so long.
Happily my chocolate loves fine spirits as much as I do! In the last few years you might have seen Willie’s Cacao on the menu of some of the top cocktail bars in London. Sometimes the mixologist creates the cocktails to pair with specific chocolates, and sometimes we recommend the chocolates to pair with their cocktails.
This was only ever going to end in one place! With me experimenting with making cocktail inspired chocolates. Here you are! And yes, Hibiki 21 really is that good. No hype needed.
This time you have both San Agustin 88 and San Agustin 70 to try. Always start by eating the chocolate with the least sugar as it’s difficult for your palette to adjust the other way round. Sugar works the same way in cocktails as in chocolate. It evokes and balances. Too much and it masks flavours, too little and it doesn’t release them. You’re looking for the perfect balance. The type of sugar makes all the difference too. I only ever use Barbados raw cane sugar because it brings its own flavour notes to the party. Refined white sugar is just plain sweet.
Rio Caribe 72 with its coffee nutty notes makes some of the most effortlessly delicious pairings. Try it with cognacs, aged rums, sherry cask aged whiskies and bourbons. It was born to go with these bold flavours that all start in a smoky-caramel type place.
On the other hand Sambirano 71 with its juicy fruit notes, fights like a cat with these types of spirits. You want to look to tequila, vodka and white rum for this one, spirits that naturally form the base of fruit cocktails.
Be careful with Luscious Orange, it’s powerful. A small piece is delicious with a Sidecar, infact with any cocktails including Cointreau are a good bet. But my top recommendation is to have it with bittersweet cocktails made from Amari, where the contrast of a twist of orange is just what’s needed. I’m talking about things like Aperol or Campari and if you can find it the St George Distillery’s Bruto Americano, which is a toweringly fantastic drink.
Almendra and Hazelnut Raisin have gentle souls, and want to be nibbled after dinner with Nut Liqueurs like Amaretto or Nocino. And that leaves Ginger Lime. This is simple, it’s basically a Moscow Mule without the vodka!
#50 Cosmopolitan. Baracoa 70 dark chocolate, cranberry, vodka, lime
Made famous by Sex and the City and the New York of the 1990’s, this is a deliciously sweet-tart cocktail. I have soaked the cranberries in Black Cow vodka and added a twist of lime. It’s perfectly balanced and utterly delicious. Party time!
#51 Whisky Sour. Baracoa 65 dark chocolate with bourbon and orange
Whisky and chocolate is one of my all time favourite pairings. Here I have soaked the raisins in bourbon so you get bursts of bourbon with a background note of orange. Spectacular!